More than twice as many people went to mainland China via Hong Kong’s land ports than arrived in the city on Sunday, as Beijing lifted most Covid-related border curbs for the first time in almost three years.

mtr lok ma chau covid reopening border china
Hong Kong’s border with China was reopened on Sunday, January 8 as travellers made the cross-border trip at Lok Ma Chau MTR station. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Almost 50,000 people went through four land ports – Lok Ma Chau, Man Kam To, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, and Shenzhen Bay – on Hong Kong’s border with mainland China on Sunday, figures from the Immigration Department showed. Among them, 14,870 arrived in the city, while more than 34,756 exited.

Sunday marked a milestone for the resumption of travel between Hong Kong and mainland China, both of which had maintained strict Covid-19 rules since the start of the pandemic three years ago and have only recently relaxed restrictions. And while quarantine requirements have been dropped, people travelling in either direction must still obtain a negative result from a Covid-19 PCR test taken within 48 hours of departure.

Two addition land ports – Lok Ma Chau and Man Kam To – reopened on Sunday to accommodate the border reopening. The Lo Wu and West Kowloon high speed rail checkpoints remain closed, but authorities have said the latter will resume services by Sunday.

The Hong Kong arrivals figure falls far short of the daily quota of 50,000. Those coming into the city via the four land ports must register for a slot on an online booking system, although those who are residents of the city are exempted from the quota.

In Sheung Shui, near the border with Shenzhen, business owners said there was little foot traffic on the first day of the border reopening, local media reported.

hong kong zhuhai macao bridge
The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge checkpoint. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The neighbourhood was known for its rows of pharmacies – popular among mainland shoppers – and parallel traders shuttling goods across the border. Many units on the once-crowded streets have shut during the pandemic due to poor business.

23,000 crossings at Lok Ma Chau

Among the four land ports, Lok Ma Chau – which borders the Shenzhen district of Futian – handled almost half the total number of crossings made on Sunday. Nearly 23,000 passed through the Lok Ma Chau MTR station, where eager travellers caught the first train, some after almost three years of being separated from their loved ones.

Around three in four travellers crossing at Lok Ma Chau were heading northwards into the mainland.

mtr lok ma chau covid reopening
Hong Kong’s border with China was reopened on Sunday, January 8 as travellers made the cross-border trip at Lok Ma Chau MTR station. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The frequency of train services along the East Rail Line had been enhanced to meet the increased demand, the MTR Corporation said, adding that it had stepped up disinfection protocols.

See also: In Pictures: Excitement at Hong Kong’s China border as Covid quarantine lifted

The checkpoint at Lo Wu, the northern terminus on the East Rail Line that also borders Shenzhen, is yet to open. An NGO has called on the government to resume operations at the checkpoint for cross-border students, who will be allowed to come to Hong Kong for in-person classes after the Lunar New Year for the first time in three years. There are around 18,000 cross-border students who live in Shenzhen but attend Hong Kong schools, local media reported.

After Lok Ma Chau, the second-busiest checkpoint was the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, with around 13,400 people making the trip across.

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.